New Hampshire's High Technology Future: The Role of the University of New Hampshire

An opinion-editorial by Ross Gittell, James R. Carter Professor, University of New Hampshire and Ann Weaver Hart, president, University of New Hampshire

June 26, 2003

Discussion about New Hampshire's economy often emphasizes high technology and well it should, as high technology industries account for one-third of the state's overall economy. The state's high tech advantages include a skilled work force, an entrepreneurial spirit and superior business climate. It ranks third in the nation in high tech employment concentration. New Hampshire, with about 9 percent of total employment in high tech, has 1.5 times the U.S. average concentration of employment in that area.

That is the good news. The bad news is the decline of the state in rank from first, to second, to third, in the last four years.

Where New Hampshire remains ranked #1 nationally is in concentration of employment in high tech manufacturing. However, manufacturing employment in N.H. has declined significantly since 2000. The state lost one of every five jobs in manufacturing, and the decline in some high technology industries, such as semiconductor manufacturing, has been even steeper.

Investment in the education, training and retention of workers is critical. The major reason for New Hampshire's decline in high tech rank during the late 1990s growth period was a lack of skilled labor. Even currently, with the stagnant economy, New Hampshire's unemployment rate is well below the U.S. average. There is a need to improve the skilled labor pipeline from high school to post-secondary and to engineering and high tech related fields in higher education.

As the state's flagship public land-grant university, we currently contribute significantly to New Hampshire's high technology sector and we can do more. The university supplies a pool of skilled workers graduating from our engineering, business, science and other degree programs. In academic year 2001-2002, 188 students earned degrees from the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. That same year, 334 students earned degrees from the Whittemore School of Business and Economics. About three of every four bachelor's degrees in engineering and related fields, biology and business in the state are awarded by the public university system, In comparison, the Massachusetts public university system awards one out of three degrees in these fields. In addition, through UNH internships, UNH engineering, computer science and business students gain critical knowledge and experience working with New Hampshire's high tech industries. At the same time, New Hampshire high technology companies get access to the state's best and brightest students and first crack at hiring them after they graduate.

Another key area for high tech in New Hampshire is research and development (R&D). New product development and first time or so-called prototype manufacturing are areas where the state can maintain its manufacturing advantage. There are significant and potentially lucrative opportunities to expand R&D links between UNH and New Hampshire high tech industry and to help seed the industries of the future in New Hampshire (the next Cabletron and Timberland). Collaborations between industry and faculty researchers at UNH take place on UNH's Entrepreneurial Campus and in programs such as Environmental Engineering, Atmospheric Science, Business, and Computer Science. UNH research has spun off into private industry ventures, such as Chaoticom, a company that invented a new way to condense digital information and enable digital information-intensive applications, such as the downloading of music, on portable personal devices like phones and PDAs.

And there is much that can be done in the future, expanding the reach of UNH's Entreprenuerial Campus and faculty and student researchers. UNH's Cooperative Extension can be a model for Entrepreneurial Extension: UNH faculty with world-class expertise and New Hampshire's bright young scholars working with and helping to create high tech businesses throughout the Granite State. UNH faculty and students together with entrepreneurs and business leaders across the state can continue to re-create high technology in New Hampshire. We can shape what New Hampshire's high technology sector will be in the next 10 and 25 years. At UNH we will help enhance innovation and new product development throughout the state and support the creation of high tech companies and the education of their workers. A dynamic high technology sector with an engaged and supportive University of New Hampshire will help ensure that the state retains its strong position in high technology.

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